On Earth Day 2016, April 22, I asked 30 civic leaders in Salem three questions about climate change.
These were candidates running for Mayor and City Council in the May election (9 people); City councilors not running in this election (6 people); the Mayor, City Manager, and Public Works Director (3 people); Chamber of Commerce execs (2 people); top Statesman Journal and Salem Weekly staff (5 people); Marion County commissioners (3 people); plus KYKN talk show host Gator Gaynor and Salem Health CEO Cheryl Nester Wolfe.
Those folks were non-scientifically selected by me while I was sitting with my laptop at a south Salem Starbucks, thinking about who I should email my three questions to while sipping a grande Pike Place.
My email message and subsequent reminder message are in a continuation to this post, at the very end. I asked the same questions as I did in 2014, spurred by a Salem City Club talk by Jane Lubchenco. In a blog post at the time, I wrote about speaking with her after her talk:
Since Lubchenco mentioned climate change often in her City Club talk, I wanted to ask her if she could think of any reason why local public officials shouldn't be willing to say whether they agree with the scientific consensus about climate change/global warming.
"No," she told me. Which is the answer I expected, since she'd just said that science isn't political.
Science seeks to learn about the nature of shared reality, the world everyone inhabits -- conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, religious believers and non-believers, everybody.
Lubchenco's talk spurred me to compose a message I'll be sending to Salem-area public officials. And other local leaders: newspaper editors/publishers; Chamber of Commerce executives; corporate and non-profit organization leaders; people running for elected office.
Before I discuss the 2016 responses -- and non-responses -- from the 30 Salem-area leaders, here's the results. A blank obviously means the person didn't respond with a YES, NOT SURE, or NO to the three questions I asked.
So far, I've gotten responses from 9 of the 30 people. Six were candidates in the May election, which says something. (I'll let readers decide on their own what that "something" is.) I also got a narrative reply from Jan Kailuweit, who is running for the Ward 1 City Council seat against Cara Kaser.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to respond. As I'm sure you've been able to tell from my Facebook posts, I'm deeply committed to reducing my carbon footprint. This is one of the reasons why I own an older home (the ultimate act of recycling, as opposed to building or buying a brand new home), why I'm a strong believer in a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly infrastructure, and why I moved to downtown, so I can walk to the office. (Besides, not having to commute, I have more time for family and my car insurance gives me a sizable discount.)
Having grown up in Europe, which is much more densely populated and hence has dealt with pollution and waste reduction for many decades, I believe there is room for improvement in Salem.
I trust my answer suffices for now.
I also heard back from Jason Tokarski of Mountain West Investment. He said:
Brian, thank you for inquiring of me on this subject. I have long wanted to better understand this subject and have looked for non-biased sources, but to this point have found nothing that I felt was informative without an agenda. Given that, I am not comfortable responding to your survey.
I thanked Tokarski for his directness, saying "I’m a big believer that it’s better to be honest about how we feel about something, rather than say what is politically correct or what we think people want to hear."
Which helps explain why I fondly look upon Warren Bednarz' "NOT SURE" about whether humans are mostly responsible for global warming. I disagree with Councilor Bednarz on some important local issues, and I don't agree that there's any doubt humans are causing global warming.
But I admire Bednarz for directly responding to the questions.
Almost certainly, some of the non-respondents are global warming deniers in one form or another. However, I suspect they're reluctant to admit this in a state and city where most citizens are strong defenders of protecting the environment. And there is no bigger threat to the habitability of our one and only Earth than global warming.
A 2014 national Gallup poll about global warming found this:
Over the past decade, Americans have clustered into three broad groups on global warming. The largest, currently describing 39% of U.S. adults, are what can be termed "Concerned Believers" -- those who attribute global warming to human actions and are worried about it. This is followed by the "Mixed Middle," at 36%. And one in four Americans -- the "Cool Skeptics" -- are not worried about global warming much or at all.
Those Cool Skeptics, 25% of the adult population, lead decidedly to the right of the political spectrum: 80% are Republicans/lean Republican; 65% are conservative and only 9% liberal. Conversely, 76% of the Concerned Believers are Democrats/lean Democrat.
Thus it wouldn't be at all surprising if a good share of Salem's conservative leaders are skeptical about the scientific consensus on global warming. I just wish they'd be up-front about this, because it would make policy debates more fruitful in this town.
For example, one reason liberals oppose the planned billion dollar Third Bridge across the Willamette is its contribution to increased carbon emissions. But if conservative leaders in this town deny global warming, yet won't admit this, it is difficult to have an honest discussion about the pros and cons of the Third Bridge. People talk past each other, rather than with each other.
Lastly, I'll note that Michael Davis, executive editor of the Statesman Journal, told me he wouldn't respond to the survey because Davis doesn't like what I've written and said about him. Well, I readily admit that I'm a frequent and strong critic of what Salem's daily newspaper has become under his leadership.
But as Jane Lubchenco told me (she was Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration from 2009-13), there is no reason local public officials shouldn't be willing to say whether they agree with the scientific consensus about climate change/global warming. I'd add, local private leaders who take part in policy discussions also.
Whether you like the person asking questions about global warming shouldn't matter. However, in Davis' case it did.
So if anyone else wants to contact the people who haven't responded yet to my survey, and ask them the same three questions, please do. The questions are in the continuation to this post that follows. Email me any responses you get, and I'll update the global warming survey results.
(The email addresses of those who haven't responded are publicly available. But if you can't find them, email me and I'll send you the ones you want.)
Here's the messages I sent out: